BY AARON BRENNER | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. – Patient and firm, Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs swore he’d get to the bottom of an avalanche of allegations hurled at his football program earlier this month by an off-beat reporter using the backstory of a rogue former player.
An internal investigation lasting nineteen days resulted in a hefty response by Jacobs and his team Monday morning, thoroughly dismantling reports by Roopstigo.com’s Selena Roberts with a nearly 1,000-word letter and official comment on 11 different allegations, including would-be NCAA violations.
“As the facts demonstrate, the article is clearly flawed,” Jacobs wrote. “I will continue to fight for Auburn University, and I will continue to defend this great institution against such attacks.
“As Auburn’s Athletics Director, it’s my job – no matter how proud I am of Auburn – to carefully review charges made against our program when warranted.”
Later in his letter, Jacobs also acknowledged the Tigers’ brutal athletic year – 0-8 in SEC football, and last place in men’s basketball and baseball division standings.
Jacobs, largely unpopular among fans during the struggles, announced university president Jay Gogue’s plan for a committee to check on all elements of the department, adding “We welcome this review.”
“As part of our efforts to get better, we are also committed to being as transparent as possible with our stakeholders,” Jacobs wrote. “That is why I wanted to let you know that a top-notch team of current and former coaches, athletics administrators, student-athletes and business executives will be coming in to give us a comprehensive evaluation.”
While numerous media reports had already poked holes in “Auburn’s Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas for Glory”, posted April 3 on Roberts’ six-month-old web site, Jacobs’ four-paragraph statement the following day promised a comprehensive inspection.
When requested for comment by the Ledger-Enquirer, Roberts made a brief response to Monday’s release, saying “I’m working on a story on it. It’s a work-in-progress (and) I will address some of the issues Auburn raised.” adding the Monday statement was “self-revealing.”
The most serious accusation in the Roopstigo.com report alleged academic fraud, when three players said the university changed grades for up to nine players, including star tailback Michael Dyer, to keep them eligible for the 2011 BCS championship game. Defensive end Mike Blanc was quoted as saying “Auburn found a way to make those dudes eligible,” but immediately disputed his involvement in the article following its publication.
According to Jacobs, “Auburn Athletics and Auburn University Internal Auditing have completed independent reviews of the academic allegations. There is no evidence academic fraud occurred.”
An Auburn spokesperson confirmed the university worked with the NCAA on investigating the academic fraud allegations.
Specifically on Dyer, Auburn stated he passed 15 credit hours in the fall of 2010 – the NCAA student-athlete minimum is six – and carried a 2.8 GPA at the end of the semester.
The majority of Roberts’ narrative was based on information given by former safety Mike McNeil and his family. McNeil’s attorney said in the story “To show you how innocent he is, Mike is willing to go to trial because he says he didn’t do it.”
However, on April 8, McNeil entered a guilty plea bargain, accepting three years in jail and three years probation for first-degree robbery.
Auburn also provided documentation of phone records rebuking statements by McNeil’s mother, Melodie Campbell, the university cut off communication with the family.
Jacobs fiercely defended Gene Chizik, the head coach he fired Nov. 25 following the school’s worst season in 62 years.
“Coach Chizik came to Auburn with a strong record of rules compliance and a reputation as a man of the utmost character and integrity,” Jacobs said. “I have enormous respect for Coach Chizik, the way he ran his program throughout his entire tenure at Auburn and also the way he left – with dignity and class.”
Chizik made an impassioned appearance on WJOX radio in Birmingham, reiterating many points from an April 4 statement via his agents.
“Simply to the Auburn people, it’s not fair. It’s not right,” Chizik said. “But that’s why I’m here today. I care about my reputation, I care about the integrity of who I am and what I do. I’m 100 percent confident we did it right.”
Numerous players quoted by Roberts backtracked from their involvement, insisting they were misguided as to how their comments would be used.
The lone named source who had yet to respond, former receiver Darvin Adams, broke his silence Monday. Chizik’s representation released the following statement from Adams: “I was never offered any improper money by anyone at Auburn – coach or booster. I never took any improper money from anyone at Auburn – coach or booster. I was never offered any money by anyone to stay at Auburn for my senior year.”
Roberts tweeted Monday midday: “again, auburn never mentions the due process core of the story or answers questions on its role in a felony case.” Chizik’s statement April 4 indicated the university worked cooperatively with Auburn police chief Tommy Dawson, who added to the rebuttals of Roberts’ report.
Jacobs has released three statements this month on the matter, but has not been available to answer questions.
Regarding the athletic department on a broader scale, Gogue, according to Jacobs, has asked the review committee to conduct “a top-to-bottom review” of the same five factors listed as Jacobs’ specific objectives.
Those five areas are, listed in order: academics, finances, fan experience on gameday, competition and management/leadership structure.